This week marked the one year anniversary since Mary Naughton, founder of the UCD Post-Graduate Workers Alliance (PGWA) marched on a meeting of University management to present their demands, along with the backing of an emboldened Students’ Union. The movement, attended by Joanna Siewierska, then UCD Students’ Union President and current President Conor Anderson, brought concerns held by PhD students to light. The issues of unpaid work, the inequality of fees and access to research funding for international students, and the demand to restore the hourly paid rates that were cut pre-2011 were all raised. 

Now, twelve months later, we look at what progress has been made by the alliance and their campaign to end the dire conditions facing postgraduate workers.

Well-Oiled Machine

The College Tribune reached out to Carla Gummerson, Graduate Officer and Conor Anderson, President of the Student’s Union for their thoughts on the Post-Graduate Workers Alliance and the supportive role of the SU. Gummerson described the PWGA as a “well-oiled machine” committed to fighting for improved conditions. Gummerson noted the broad national effort being made to tackle these issues, with current links in place with UL and NUIG about the issues surrounding international PHD students’ spouses. Under the current legislation they are not allowed to work. But perhaps the greatest strength of the PGWA has been the continued lobby for change and the attention they have shone on the current plight by academics. 

In December 2020 an investigation by Noteworthy, the investigative arm of The, found a huge lack of oversight regarding precarious workers and noted that there was no centralised data for the work and pay these individuals do. Gummerson acknowledged the work of Ruairí Power (Welfare Officer) who set out to find out this information, and is currently awaiting Freedom Of Information requests from 38 of the schools where the data is thought to lie. Paul Murphy TD of RISE, has raised this issue recently in the Dáil, putting questions to Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Convention Centre. 

Conor Anderson was Graduate Officer of the PGWA under its previous name, UCD Anti-Casualization; he has commended the alliance for its “amazing growth and expansion” since last year. Anderson further underlined the disheartening lack of concern from UCD Management whom he states has largely chosen not to engage with demands around fees. He believes this state of affairs will not change until the SU, and the student body at large, is sufficiently mobilized to force them to engage. 

Renewed Hope

In recent days, substantial progress has been made and Gummerson has since confirmed that following increased pressure by the SU and the PGWA, the request for a meeting with HR and members of the management has been accepted. This marks another milestone on the road to improved conditions for postgraduate workers. 

Jack O’Gorman – Reporter